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Russian Duma Approves Legislation to Curb  Media - 2002-11-01

The Russian parliament Friday approved new curbs on media coverage of anti-terrorist operations, giving the state more control over journalists. Supporters of the legislation say it is needed to counter terrorists like the ones who took over the theater in Moscow last week.

Despite complaints from some legislators that the new law promotes censorship, the Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, voted overwhelmingly to approve it.

Under the proposed law, media outlets would be prohibited from broadcasting or publishing information that would hurt counter-terrorism operations or put people's lives in danger.

The vote came less than a week after Russian forces stormed a theater in Moscow where Chechen gunmen were holding hundreds of people hostage.

Proponents of the media legislation say in a crisis situation like the hostage-taking, the journalistic community needs to take responsibility for its coverage.

But critics of the legislation say it is a blatant attempt to crack down on freedom of speech and rid the airwaves or newspapers of criticism of the government.

The legislation must still be approved by the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, and signed by President Vladimir Putin before it becomes law.

The news of the media law comes as Chechen leader Shamil Basayev is assuming responsibility for the takeover of the Moscow theater. According to a statement published on a website associated with the rebels, Mr. Basayev said he planned the operation.

He also asked for forgiveness from other Chechen leaders for not publicizing his part in the hostage raid earlier. The authenticity of the statement could not be verified.

While the Kremlin had no immediate comment about the announcement, Russian leaders have previously blamed the crisis on Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov, charges Mr. Maskhadov denies.